Survival – New Album!

With Dad doing a lot better and dropping hints that I have my own life to get back to, I’ve felt able to concentrate a lot more on finishing my started music – punctuated by a few medical appointments that I’ve provided transport for and just keeping an eye out to make sure things are as OK as possible.

A couple of days ago, I submitted my second album to the distributor after a very intense few weeks, fixing the odd issue with the mixes and mastering the tracks. The next stage of ‘inspection’ has been done by the distributor and I’m writing this whilst I proof-listen to the tracks in order to give my final permission for them to go ahead and release it EVERYWHERE – i.e. the point of no return. The official release date when it will start becoming available to the general public is this coming Friday, 18th May.

cropped-survival_album_cover_art_3000x3000.jpg

This is the first time that I’ve released a project I mastered completely by myself. I can tell you categorically, having gone through it, that doing your first ‘official’ mastering on a 15-track album is nothing short of stupid!  I had thought I might release a self-mastered EP first, as that’s what I was learning on, but ended up concentrating on the bigger project because I thought I had, ahem, mastered it enough. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Mastering a single track is relatively simple – you don’t need to think about how the sound relates to anything else apart from reference tracks that you’re using as a guide. You just make sure it sounds as good as those, adding a bit of polish, and ensuring that it is at the right volume level.*   With every additional track in a project, however, you are adding a layer of complication, because they all need to sound right together.  That meant that I had significantly more attempts at mastering each track than I would have had if I’d been releasing 15 singles separately.  There was also an element of still being on the uphill part of the learning curve, which would have been fine if I was releasing a 4-track EP, but it made releasing an hour-long album more ‘interesting’ when working to a deadline I’d by now committed to.  Perseverance and overcoming stress is really important for releasing music!

And just to prove it, before I get all the way through proof-listening to the whole album, there is some kind of technical fault – the distributor website suddenly can’t load my audio files. Maybe they have a server down or the site is overloaded at present – tracks I already listened to won’t load either, but the internet hasn’t gone down (this time! it’s been really wonky for a couple of days).  I’ll need to come back later and have another go, by the look of things.  At least it’s fallen over on the most appropriately-named track, Ominous Hopeful!

Error-message-audio

*OK, so it’s a bit more technical than that, but that’s the short version and it all boils down to using your ears and a few meters to get the best possible outcome.

Ghettoblaster

Playlist of the Week (2018/20)

This week’s POTW is a bit different from previous ones, which have all so far been Spotify playlists. This one is a Musicoin playlist, run by artist Juxta via the Atom Collector Records website, with a little help from another artist, Self Suffice, aka Rapoet.  Musicoin doesn’t have playlist features built into its website just yet, so Rapoet took the initiative to work out how to do it from his own website, and passed the information on – a great example of indie musicians working together to help each other out!

The other unusual, if not unique, thing about this playlist, is that when you listen to it, the independent musicians you hear will directly receive a small amount of cryptocurrency for every track you play.   (Check out my article  What alternatives are there to Soundcloud? (Pt 5: Musicoin) to find out more about Musicoin and how it works).  It is very difficult to make a living as an independent musician, therefore many of us have been experimenting with different outlets such as this, to see if we can make it work for us.

To listen to this week’s playlist of the week, click here and follow the instructions on screen.

What alternatives are there to Soundcloud? (Part 4: Bandcamp)

There were various articles last summer predicting doom and gloom for Soundcloud before they were rescued. With that in mind, I did a little research into what alternatives independent musicians have to Soundcloud.

This is part 4 of the series aimed at independent artists. Comments relate to the free version of Bandcamp: there is a Pro subscription available allowing more advanced features like uploading videos and customising your bandcamp domain name, but it costs $10 per month, beyond the budget for many small artists.

Bandcamp's welcome page

Bandcamp’s front page

Bandcamp

Bandcamp is a well-established site for indie artists, geared up around selling downloads. Musicians can also allow listeners to stream their material, so they can decide if they will like it before they buy. Posting music here is a way of releasing material, but Bandcamp do not offer distribution services beyond their site, so this doesn’t get you onto Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify and so on: you will need to release your work through an additional distribution service if you want to get into those outlets.

Bandcamp is not a particularly suitable place for sharing rough mixes or material you’re not sure about to get feedback – listeners can’t leave comments and it may cause confusion if you post unfinished material in your store. That said, you can post tracks for free, allowing people to download for ‘£0 or more’, so that does give an option to differentiate between work in progress and finished items that you charge for. Anyone doing that would need to make sure it was well communicated, however, and there are possible reputation issues if you post work before it is really listenable.

There are some social aspects to Bandcamp, but it’s somewhat limited:  You can ‘like’ tracks via Facebook or tweet them directly from inside the site; music fans have their own pages and can follow each other as well as their favourite artists. Bandcamp encourage you to follow other fans with similar taste and check out their ‘collection’, to aid music discovery.  There’s also a music discovery page with features and which shows which albums or tracks are being bought right now, with the option to click through and listen. When you follow an artist, they can email to let you know when they have a new track available.

Pros:
Great for showing off albums.
Try-before-you-buy feature
You can limit the number of free streams of each track you allow listeners if you wish
You control the download price (unlike some online stores), and can offer free downloads on tracks you wish to share but not sell.
Fans can add a tip for the music they like best, when downloading.
Fans can follow artists they like, and artists can subsequently email them.
You can link your gig information to Bandcamp via the Songkick app.

Cons:
This site is not really suitable for getting feedback for work in progress.
The social dimension of the site is quite limited.
Music discovery is also fairly limited: users have to be actively seeking out new music.
Downloading is already on the wane – streaming is growing fast, but is not the focus of this site. This could affect the site’s relevance within just a few years, if the site does not adapt accordingly.

Verdict:
Where Bandcamp works best is as a well known online store, especially if you don’t provide music downloads direct from your own website. Because this site is very well known, it’s still a standard place for indie artists to be – at least for now.  You can use Bandcamp alongside your distribution deal (e.g. through CDBaby) providing that the distribution contract is non-exclusive, so that you get the benefit of being on both platforms.

What alternatives are there to Soundcloud? (Part 3: Orfium)

This is the third installment in the series, exploring where independent musicians can make their music available to the public.

Orfium platform music discovery

Orfium platform music discovery

Orfium

The concept behind Orfium is the one-stop-shop and they are pitching themselves as the ‘answer to Soundcloud’. They have been around since 2016, and are a social network where you can also sell and monetize your music. The platform is effectively designed to be something like Soundcloud meets CDBaby. (Which would incidentally make a great combination if CDBaby were to get hold of Soundcloud.)

There’s no upfront or hosting cost. Orfium keep 20% of the revenue, if you decide to sell tracks through them rather than offer them for free. That means they are keeping 5% more than Bandcamp and CDBaby Free. On the plus side, Orfium can do more for you, as they can handle publishing, sync licensing, and YouTube monetisation, which aren’t part of the Bandcamp or CDBaby Free services.  (CD Baby can cover this, but you pay a fixed upfront fee to upgrade to either its ‘standard’ or ‘pro’ services, depending on your needs.)

So keen are Orfium to win over Soundcloud users that they have an ‘import from Soundcloud’ feature, however it only works with tracks that you’ve made available for download from Soundcloud.  There are not very many users just yet – charting tracks have a relatively small number of listens, which are currently dominated by a few bands; the ‘popular new music’ list mostly consists of tracks with less than a handful of plays. Electronic music dominates the site currently, possibly because this genre tends to adopt new tech early.

Pros:
-A very well-designed, professional-looking site.
-No upfront fees.
-If you make remixes, they can be featured alongside the originals.
-There’s a playlisting feature; playlists can be set to be public or private.
-They also cover Facebook monetisation.
-If your fans play your tracks on the site, you could gain the attention of other site users simply through being a relatively early adopter of the site.
-You can set external links to another site where you sell a track, instead of via Orfium.

Cons:
-If you want to sell through the site you could end up paying more in the long run than selling via a service with a fixed upfront fee, like CDBaby Standard, if you expect to make a lot of sales.
-There’s no app for it just yet (although they say there is one on the way).
-Downloads sold through the site are currently only available as mp3, not lossless files (although Orfium’s FAQs state that they plan to offer lossless later).
-A 20% charge on sales is a bit on the steep side. You’d have to weigh up whether you stand to gain overall via the additional sources of monetisation available like Facebook. Royalties/sales are also only paid to artists via Paypal or Payoneer, and in USD, so if you’re outside the States, expect additional fees.

Verdict:
This looks like a good site with a lot of potential, but it needs more music fans to use it. I don’t see it as a direct replacement to Soundcloud, as it seems better geared up for fully finished recordings, as it also offers distribution services.  The social side of the service seems more like a nice add-on to its distribution service at the moment, rather than being the core benefit, but that should change as more fans start to use the site. It is currently slightly better suited for electronic musicians, because there appear to be more electronic artists using the site, who will be bringing their fans to visit. Consider selling downloads through your own website, but using Orfium as the shop window, to lower your costs and to offer lossless quality files to listeners.